There’s really nothing that’s quite as easy as propagating succulents. It’s just a waiting game, and regardless of whether you start with a single leaf or a whole rosette, very few plants will display “the will to live” like a succulent will. If you’re impatient, you’ll invariably fail; but with a little patience, succulents will always aim to live rather than die, so long as you start with a good cutting.
Above, you have leaf cuttings–just one healthy leaf plucked off from the plant (or in some cases, it dropped off by accident because I brushed it up against something or the pot fell over). It’s a fact that not all leaf cuttings will grow a new plant and additionally, not all leaf cuttings that root will grow a new plant (they will just grow roots). Since the objective of growing any cutting is to create a new plant, it’s always best to attempt propagating a few leaves rather than just one. That said, it’s not like I go and pluck off many leaves for no reason, but if a friend wants a plant and I can’t bear to prune my main plant, then a leaf cutting will suffice, though it will take considerably longer.
Beheading a succulent is always going to be more reliable and successful than a leaf cutting. Most of the time when I behead a singular rosette like this, it’s because it’s grown taller in the stem area than I want, and I want to create multiple plants from this single plant. Whenever possible, I like to leave about a 2-3 cm stem with the bottom and snip off the top with at least a centimeter of stem on the rosette.
In many cases, I will take a rosette as shown above and tear off a couple of the bottom leaves–especially if I couldn’t cut a long enough stem. Obviously, taking off a couple more leaves will increase the surface area and length of the stem. Since Echeveria will throw out roots from the points where the leaf originally attached to the stem, this will encourage rooting. In this case, I did not tear off any leaves from this plant because you can see the previous junctions where leaves were already torn off and with a healthy stem, it was basically guaranteed to grow.
I want just enough stem left on the rosette to stick into soil. I use any type of soil for propagating, but in many cases, I find that a completely dry peat-based soil will encourage roots faster, whereas a grittier mix of rocks and such will create better (whiter and cleaner) roots. More often than not, I will always choose to root in a gritty mix, but for the purpose of this post, I deliberately chose a peat mix (Pro-Mix HP, in this case). I tend to just choose whatever I have on hand. The only thing that really matters is that you keep the soil dry. It should start dry and remain dry; the only access to moisture the cutting itself will have is the humidity in the air.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Watering a rootless plant with a freshly cut stem will increase the chances of the stem rotting exponentially!
Personally, with the bottom portion of this Echeveria, whether I water or not depends on whether the pot it’s in currently is where it started. If it’s where it started, I’ll continue watering lightly starting this moment and over the next month–maybe once a week like I do with my succulents, keeping in mind that I use a very porous and rocky mix that doesn’t hold water. (If you are using peat, then once every 2-3 weeks would be the most you’d water anyway.) If it’s newly potted, I will keep it dry for a week, and after that week, I’ll begin watering on the same schedule.
The rosette will lose a few bottom leaves in most cases. I’ve had some tops root without any leaf loss but never a ‘Perle Von Nürnberg.’ This is also another reason not to pull off bottom leaves; if you know that the plant you’re propagating tends to lose leaves while being propagated, leave the bottom leaves on.
Depending on what you’re propagating, roots will begin growing out of the stem in about 1-4 weeks usually. The variety tends to determine how long this will take, and then the season, weather and other conditions surely contribute. In this Echeveria’s case, it took one week to see nubs of roots form, and another week to show actual roots emerge. The photo above is 19 days post beheading, meaning that in 19 days, the plant has fully begun rooting itself. For the purpose of this post, I’ve been lifting it a lot to see how it’s doing, but I highly suggest that you do not do that. With every movement and lift, you could be setting the plant back. This was why I chose the Pro-Mix HP; lifting it this often out of gritty mix will damage the roots more than lifting it out of dry peat-based mix which is fluffy and non-abrasive. Note the soil in the background–it’s never been watered up to this point.
In about a week plus, I will begin watering this particular rosette. It still has enough to continue growing for a good while, but if I hold water much longer than that, it’ll begin to use the moisture it its own leaves to grow on top and die on bottom….that’s not what I want.
What’s the bottom doing?
Well, in that same amount of time, not much. Every red dot you see on that stem is new growth emerging, and once they grow into real leaves, the growth rate will speed up. But until then, it’s almost always slower than the top. While there’s less risk with the bottom (since the top may not root), you do spend more time looking at nubs than anything resembling a plant.
Eventually, it grows.
This is what will most likely happen to the stem portion.
In rare cases, I’ve gotten one rosette grown as a new plant but more often than not, the stem will grow MANY rosettes. Each one will grow big enough to be cut off the stem and propagated in the same way the rosette above was planted, but until then, they grow in a cluster like this. You end up with many plants of the same kind, but because they’re all squashed up together like this, you’ll find that the majority of your rosettes are a little less symmetrical than one grown on its own.
These little cuttings of Crassula capitella called ‘Campfire’ are no different. They’re snipped off the mother plant and in this case, I did rip off the bottom two leaves of each cutting. Then, you stick them in soil and watch them grow. Unlike many Echeveria, these cuttings will root faster and grow faster. They’re also not as sensitive to being watered, since they do root easily and begin using the water instead of remaining in wet soil and rotting.
One of the easiest plants to propagate, and also one of the best and prettiest succulents in my opinion, is Graptopetalum paraguayense ‘Ghosty’ — or otherwise known as “Ghosty” or just ghost plant. These are some of the fastest and most prolific growers, and super easy, too. Because these tend to trail, there’s a lot of stem to work with and the rosettes will often root within days. Similarly, the leaf cuttings will also want to root fast. Given that visitors love this plant, they’re great ones to propagate so as to have plenty available to give away. I have pots and pots of ghost plants going at all times during the spring and fall. Cold tolerance is impressive on this one, too; they seem to not miss a beat even down to 20 degrees!
This is another Echeveria that will root fast when you behead a stem. In this case, it was an offset that I snipped off early and it’s now nicely rooted in its own pot. The leaves on this one don’t root quite as fast, but with time, they will all become little plants of their own.
Sometimes, new plants will form long before the roots emerge. In leaf cuttings like the above, this is almost always the case with this particular Echeveria, though I don’t know why. Almost all of its leaves will form bodies before roots, but left alone, the roots will always emerge.
There’s also no guarantee that one body will form at the end of a leaf cutting. In this case, this is a Graptosedum and it has a tendency to form multiple heads with leaf cuttings. The white rocks you see are pieces of perlite, and if I wanted to, I could cut the adult leaf off at this point to plant up the multiple babies since it has enough roots to sustain itself. This particular succulent is also a really prolific grower, forming lots of trailing heads everywhere.
Possibly more prolific than the ghost plant is probably Echeveria melaco–primarily because of its growth habit. They offset all day long, and every little rosette you see on the plant can be snipped off and rooted on their own; all the little rosettes you see toward the bottom half of the photo were grown just like that off the main plant in the top half of the photo. I have more pots of these rosettes growing. In bright sun, they turn a striking brown or olive green color and in lesser sun like it’s getting now due to the fall weather, the plant grows a little greener toward the stem. You can also see a stem and some leaves in this pot.
How to Propagate Leaf Cuttings
So, here’s a tip.
When propagating leaf cuttings, one of the best ways to do this is using a pot as shown above.
What you see on top is perlite (the link will show the perlite I use–best and most cost effective overall), but what you don’t see if the Pro-Mix HP that I laid on the bottom of the pot. Once I have the leaf cuttings I want to propagate, I’ll take any pot that is shallow (this is actually just a pot tray, about 1.5 inches deep/tall), drill some holes in the bottom and lay about 1/2″ of regular potting mix of some kind. Then, I water that mix in thoroughly until it’s drenched. The remaining 1″ of the tray is filled with plain perlite — completely dry. It’s on top of this perlite that you lay your leaf cuttings.
The reason I do this is because perlite won’t hold much water, thereby always keeping the cuttings dry. However, roots will grow out and look for water to live–and there’s moist potting mix below the perlite. This will naturally make roots head south into the perlite and if they grow long enough, they’ll find water. Additionally, because the perlite is on top of the mix, it won’t dry out as quickly, and when you water this pot, the water will flow through the perlite, soak the mix and drain out the bottom. The perlite on top will dry fast and not remain wet, which will easily prevent rot in your leaves.
If you look at picture A and B above, you’ll see the difference in growth habit as the leaves root. In picture A where I use moist potting mix below dry perlite, the roots head south nearly automatically. In picture B where the leaves are laid atop dry potting mix, you can see root when they grow out. In the majority of cases, they’ll head into the soil, too, but this pot of leaf cuttings cannot be accidentally watered or kept moist in any fashion or these leaves will most likely fail, or rot. If you accept that roots go looking for water, then you can begin to understand why having moist potting mix at the bottom of the pot will encourage roots to go south.
My problem is that once they do this, since I don’t label any leaf cuttings (who has time for that??), I rarely know what plant the leaf came off of. In the case of ‘Debbie,’ they are easy to tell because I’ve done it so often, but in other cases — I’m at a complete loss until it grows much larger and I recognize which plant was the mother plant.
How to Pot Up Babies Grown on Leaves
Once my new plants at the ends of leaf cuttings begin growing into a decently sized new plant, I pot them up separately. Sometimes, I will use a larger pot and stick many of them in the same pot, but in the above case, I want to create a single rosette, individual plant in each 1.5″ pot.
You carefully pull up the plant from the large basket–and this is easier when it’s all perlite on top–and then if you have any potting mix on the roots, tap it off. In most cases, if you used a deep enough pot, no potting mix will have touched the roots just yet. Then, I take a very rocky mix as shown above (and what you’re seeing there is the actual soil it’s in!), and carefully lay the roots in the mix and top off the pot so balance the leaf in a way that the new plant body is nicely placed into the mix.
As the little “plantlet” grows, it will eventually use up any energy left in the parent leaf and begin relying on the mix to live. That is when you begin watering and fertilizing the new plant. If you’re using a mix like this one, you can be much freer about water at about this point, but if in peat, never water until the parent leaf is good and dead. The second from the top plant shows a leaf that is rapidly dying after creating a little baby plant; it’s a week away from being dead, but do not water until it’s completely dead. At that point, it will easily pluck off the baby plant or in some cases, the plant will simply discard the leaf from itself.
There are some exceptions. Sometimes, the mother leaf won’t die. In many such cases, it’s because I started watering and fertilizing the little plant and the mother didn’t need to give up its own energy to grow the little plant. In other cases, that’s just the way it is. I have had many occasions where I’ve needed to snip off the mother leaf from the little baby, and as long as you’re careful to not damage the baby, it’s not a big deal at all. If you look at the top left plant above, the baby is substantial in size and the mother leaf looks nearly brand new. There’s a good chance that plant will be one of those cases where I’ll have to snip off the mother leaf.
Almost all succulents can be propagated via cuttings, especially using the beheading method. Many succulent leaves will root and grow a new plant, but not all. For example, many Aeonium leaves will not root; they’ll just wither up and eventually die. However, Aeonium stem cuttings excel at growing, as shown above in the bright pink and green one–those were just stems off the bigger plant, stuck into soil. You have to wait a considerable amount of time for them to actually root, but in most cases, I find that Aeonium will grow before they actually root. This particular variety is Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ grown in nice sun.
If you buy one variety of a succulent, there’s a good chance that over time, you will get the opportunity to grow many of the same kind. It’s a fantastic way to share plants with friends, or sell them, or simply create a large grouping of the same plant, which is always striking. In my case, I plant a lot of cuttings into the ground to fill a bed at the front of my house, and others I will plant up and give away or create a pot full of different cuttings to take to someone’s house as a housewarming. Lots of my friends have gotten into plants this way–and there really is very little as satisfying as sharing plants you grew yourself with others.
Give it a whirl and post below if you have any questions!